The Women’s Coalition of Northern Ireland: The Power of Women at the Negotiation Table

The Women’s Coalition of Northern Ireland: The Power of Women at the Negotiation Table

By Emma Gross; Image by Derek Speirs

Image: Members of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition at a press conference at Castle Buildings following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, 10 April 1998.

The Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement is a peace process for the ages. The shining gem of this peace agreement though is the presence and involvement of the Women’s Coalition; a cross-party group of women with the common goal of building durable peace despite differences (Hinds, 2003). Their main focus was bridging the gap between parties and focusing on genuine collaboration for the greater good, rather than treating a peace negotiation like a zero-sum game. When negotiations are treated this way, it not only roots the communication, energy, and content of the negotiation in hyper-masculine security logics, but it also impedes the negotiation’s ability to work towards a collaborative, trusting, and integrated future (Corredor and Anderson, 2024). 

The Women’s Coalition initially acted as a civil society group aiming to ensure that the peace agreement signed reflected the unique experiences of women in conflict and included gendered provisions. They were, however, repeatedly forced out of the discussion and not taken seriously. Thus their wants and needs were not included. To ensure they had a seat at the table, the Women’s Coalition formed itself as a political party and ran for office. In doing so they guaranteed themselves two seats at the negotiation table(O’Neil, et al., 2019). The two delegates represented both the Protestants and the Catholics by electing Monica McWilliams, and Jane Morrice. These women, like the women of the Women’s coalition at large, came from vastly different political backgrounds with varying experiential engagement. That did not however make them, less valid. It instead made them the true voices of the people and grounded their work in making actionable change for their cause and the Women of Northern Ireland. 

Both in and out of the negotiation room was a hostile environment among other delegates. The blatant sexism and refusal to acknowledge the value of McWilliams, Morrice, and the party at large was constant. Every other delegate was a man and continuously made the negotiation room a battleground, screaming and clawing to get whatever it was they wanted without acknowledgment for the greater good of Northern Ireland(O’Neil, et al., 2019). It was the Women’s Coalition that changed this attitude and focused instead on problem-solving. They did not utilize traditional bargaining modalities and instead focused on mutually beneficial solutions. Through this, the peace agreement was not about absolute victory for one side or the other(Hinds, 2003). It was the use of this philosophy that allowed the Good Friday Agreement was able to come to fruition. 

When looking at peace, especially from a durability perspective, the inclusion of women at the negotiation table and as signatories correlates to an increase in durability over time(Krause, et al., 2018). It offers an opportunity for peace to be representative beyond just masculine, patriarchal ideals and instead shifts the focus to inclusive language highlighting the gendered experiences of women in conflict. It allows for the peace agreements to include gendered provisions not usually brought to the table by men and ultimately makes the language and agreements of a peace agreement more representative of the population in its entirety. This is not to say that the responsibility of gendered inclusion should fall solely on women. This should not have to be fought for. Gendered subcommissions or gendered discussions need to continually be inclusive of all genders to permeate these values and their importance across the board so that the onus for this responsibility is more consistently on all negotiating parties. 

The Women’s Coalition of Northern Ireland worked with the system that was actively trying to work against them, and in the end, they got the representation that they needed for the women of Northern Ireland. In summary, they are an example of the necessity for women to be active in peace proceedings and the importance of women having a seat at the negotiation table. They played a major role in the success and durability of the Good Friday agreement and should not be forgotten. 


Corredor, E. S., & Anderson, M. (2024). SECRECY, UNCERTAINTY, AND TRUST: THE GENDERED NATURE OF BACK-CHANNEL PEACE NEGOTIATIONS(Working Paper). Hinds, J.-H. (2003). Problem-Solving Negotiation: Northern Ireland’s Experience with the Women’s Coalition. 2003

Krause, J., Krause, W., & Bränfors, P. (2018). Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations and the Durability of Peace. International Interactions, 44(6), 985–1016.

O’Neil, E., et al. (2019). Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs [Video]. Collective Eye Films.

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